4 issues challenging the logistics market

State of Logistics report highlighted the size of the industry, but it also identified the top issues

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Supply chains continue to become more responsive, and providers are developing more solutions than ever, Andy Moses, senior vice president of sales and solutions for Penske Logistics, said during a webinar presentation ahead of the formal release of the 2023 State of Logistics Report last week.

“Logistics is largely a solutions-based discipline,” Moses said. “It’s heavily fueled by technology, by process [and] discipline by scale. And I think what we’re seeing is the requirements for the responsiveness of supply chains have never been greater. And our solutions activity is kind of off the charts at the moment.”

The 2023 State of Logistics Report is produced annually for the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) by global consulting firm Kearney and presented by third-party supply chain provider Penske Logistics. It offers a snapshot of the American economy via the lens of the logistics sector and its role in overall supply chains.

Top leaders from across the supply chain came together for the webinar, offering their thoughts on the top issues of the day, and answering questions on the market and some of the findings in the report.

The report found that U.S. business logistics costs increased and now stand at $2.3 trillion, up from $1.85 trillion last year. USBLC represents 9.1% of GDP and has grown 46% compared to 2020.

E-commerce continues to hum along, increasing 8% in 2022 to $1.03 trillion, making up 14.5% of the U.S. retail market. When it comes to technology investment, 3PLs are leading the way, with 96% indicating they have migrated to the cloud while just 86% of shippers said the same. Shippers also lag in investing in IoT, at 77% compared to 3PLs 80%.

For a number of businesses, reshoring has gone from a strategic possibility to a market reality. According to the Kearney Reshoring Index, American imports of Mexican manufactured goods have grown by 26% (dating back to spring 2020).

Read: The ‘Great Reset’ is underway

But among the gathered experts, there were other themes that came through as well.

Gregory Javor, vice president of global supply chain operations at Mattel, said resiliency is something he has seen, but he is also seeing finance become an issue as inflation and rising rates have pressured businesses saddled with excess inventory. In addition, balancing that inventory with sales and working through the overages is challenging.

“It’s like the circulatory system of our supply chain, so it gets a lot of attention,” he said.

Paul Bingham, director of transportation consulting with S&P Market Intelligence, noted that rate hikes are also pressuring businesses.

“The Federal Reserve Board raising interest rates … for the last year, that’s changed the equation for some of the big companies on trying to manage the inventory of what you’ve got,” he said. “Inventory carrying cost shooting up so much in the face of inflation on the commodity categories. I think I would focus on that as an area to watch. Obviously, the expectation is that inflation gets under control and eventually interest rates come down, but not this year.”

Freight rate outlook

Capacity continues to outstrip demand in both ocean and trucking, with rates still falling in both cases.

“Right now if you look at demand for transportation versus supply, we have overcapacity, that’s part [of the reason] why the spot rates are so incredibly low,” said Bart De Muynck, chief information officer for project44.

Balika Sonthalia, senior partner at Kearney, noted that her clients are seeing a big decline in ocean rates the past few weeks, leading many to look for quarterly rate contracts at the moment as “rates are going to decrease.” However, she said that overcapacity is “more regional” and depends on the sector.

De Muynck said that as capacity is leaving the trucking market, high rates could return, “the question is how quickly.”

Robert Walpole, vice president of air cargo at Delta, said overcapacity in the airfreight market should start to correct itself over the next 6 to 18 months as older planes that have been kept in service due to the elevated rates of the past few years are retired.

On the trucking side, De Muynck said fortunes will change as well.

“If you look at it next year, we might be in the reverse where volumes are coming back, where imports are going to go up because the inventory levels have gone down and companies are reordering, and all of a sudden you see more demand on domestic capacity, and again, it’s going to even itself out and rates are going to go back up,” De Muynck said, noting the cyclical nature of the supply chain.

Resiliency is the word of the day

For all the speakers, resiliency and agility are the words to focus on.

“Just look at the last two weeks,” De Muynck said. “Some of the things that we’ve seen when things happened in the Panama Canal, with the droughts that we see out there, with the lowering of volumes coming through [the ports]. You’ve just seen recently with the fires in Canada, how that’s affecting both people as well as trains up into the northeast. We saw the fire on I-95 just north to Philadelphia … as well with some of the closures of the terminals on the West Coast. So, although we see certain trends that go up or go down what we continue to see these micro events globally that are continuing to hit supply chains and specifically transportation and so companies need to continue to be very flexible, be very agile and continuously look at how do we respond to all of those events.”

Is there really a normal market?

When questioned on whether the market will ever return to normal, De Muynck quoted a colleague of his, Peter Hinson, who said it was the “never normal.”

“Normal, I don’t even think there is such a thing as new normal,” de Muynck said. “It’s, we continuously going to evolve, but right now is the time to look at what is that going to look like and companies as I said, before have to be a lot more agile to be able to react to those different things, react to weather events, react to capacity shortages or overages, … or geopolitical impacts.”

Labor concerns

In response to a question on labor concerns, Bingham said it is likely we will continue to see uncertainty there.

“For labor issues, … living through a high inflation and wage increase environment where the union wages have not necessarily kept pace until they get a new contract, we can anticipate some more friction coming from the labor sector, especially organized labor in the near term,” said Paul Bingham.

West Coast port laborers recently struck a tentative six-year deal, but some East Coast ports have labor contracts that expire in the next year or two, and Bloomberg reported in December 2022 that over 150 “large union contracts” are set to expire by the end of 2023, covering more than 1.6 million workers. Among those are UPS Teamsters members, who voted on June 16 to authorize a strike if a new contract is not reached by July 31.

There are approximately 340,000 UPS Teamsters members.


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About the Author

Brian Straight, SCMR Editor in Chief
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Brian Straight is the Editor in Chief of Supply Chain Management Review. He has covered trucking, logistics and the broader supply chain for more than 15 years. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and two children. He can be reached at [email protected], @TruckingTalk, on LinkedIn, or by phone at 774-440-3870.

View Brian's author profile.


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